End of the Paper Trail

The other day I had the opportunity to flip through a few books which were published in the 1600’s. And when I say flip through I mean turn the pages ever so carefully, as if they were made from the most delicate crystal. This took place during my Renaissance lecture which for that day took place in one of our libraries.

While paging through these great but ever so delicate pieces of history I wondered, what will people be paging through 350 years from now? Most likely nothing. There will be no collections of books which were published in the 21st century, for two reasons: 1) the paper is acidic and more susceptible to disintegration, and 2) everything is slowly becoming digital and thus doesn’t leave a “paper trail”. How will the future turn around and look back at us? Will they be able to carefully maintain tangible items which are hundreds of years old- displaying what was once? How does one display something digital and make it look historic?

The Renaissance was a time where what was once old was the found again, marveled at and then used as a point which to build from. It was a time of competition, innovation, and curiosity. A time where one would look to the Greeks, Romans, or Egyptians learn all they could and then try and improve what had already been done. During this time it was a select few who discovered, and then determined what was worth pursuing and what was best shoved under the rug. Now today we all decide for ourselves what we want to hear and learn, and rarely do we ever have some one deciding for us. “We are collaborative animals, it turns out, and joyful amateurs interested in entertaining and informing ourselves than being entertained and informed by professionals, ” write Michael Wolff for this months Vanity Fair. How very true, look at the world of advertising, no longer are we the drones of 2000, sitting back and ingesting whatever advert popped up on the screen. We now decide for ourselves what we want to see, hear, believe – so how does something from the past have a chance of influencing the future?

We see that today, the internet which was once Netscape, AOL and a dial tone, is now so integrated with our non-digital lives we are almost always connected to it. We live in a world which is half virtual and half realistic – however, the former seems to be eating away gradually at the latter. For where does one look to first for information? The internet. Where does one hang out with friends and find out what the newest thing to do is? The internet. Where does one shop, browse through the latest fashions, flip through books and magazines, sort through the best deals? The internet. Where does one browse the latest jams, the newest hits, last nights episode? The internet.

The question is will the internet provide those of the future with a glimpse of what once was? We see artifacts dated hundreds of years, going to museums, places which are designated to specifically house the past, marveling at what lies behind the protected glass. The satisfaction, the thrill, the joy of unearthing something once buried, hidden from the world – will it cease to exist in the future? Will discovery be merely in the form of that which is the future, and never more what was the past? Are people even going to be looking to the past, or just purely looking ahead? Will discourse be so open and available that nothing will be left for personal discovery?  What will the History Channel or National Geographic be? Will people hold books? Flip through pages? Or just click, click click away?

Well at least we know that the trees will be safe, hopefully.

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